Jan 18, 2010

The Bicycle Culture

Our friend Mighk recently had a feature article in the local Orlando alternative newspaper the Orlando Weekly(Mr Bicycle 1-13-10 by Lindy Shepherd).
Mighk is a lead for the central Florida regional transportation planning board, Metroplan, and focuses on bike and pedestrian matters. He is well versed in what large cities are trying to do to enhance their biking opportunities.

Here are some excerpts from that article:

What does “a road” represent in your life?

The importance of design – the design not of just the street itself, but the buildings around it, all combined. You have to have a good relationship between the buildings and the street in order for the whole thing to work properly. When you push your buildings back behind a huge parking lot, that has a profound effect on what the street experience is, and it’s the reason why people fly at such high speeds down our arterial roads, because [those areas] are a no man’s land. There’s no sense of confinement and so you have the sense of being on a rural road, even though you’re in an urban environment. And there are plenty of opportunities for conflict.......

There is a lot of ignorance. … When it comes to cycling … we make our assumptions based on what we see other people doing. How many people who are wondering about the rules actually look up the statues? They take their cues from what is going on around them.

If I suddenly drove into Orlando and I had never been here, I would gather that yielding to pedestrians isn’t done here, because that is the norm here. And so people perceive the norm when it comes to cycling – riding on sidewalks, trying to get out of the way of motorists. But really they should be out on the road, doing the same things that all other vehicle drivers do. So there is this perception that rules for bicycles are different and they are not.

What can we do about changing people’s perceptions?

That’s the really tough part, and it requires training, of course. The thing that is tough about educating cyclists is that you have to break bad habits. With motorists, they know they are not supposed to do this, that and the other thing, but with bicycling they have all kinds of misconceptions and many of them are contrary to what good safety practices are and what the rules actually are.

And what happens when obeying those rules doesn’t work, doesn’t keep you safe?

They work, and they work for me, if you know how to put them into use. … A bicyclist is much better getting out there in the middle of the lane, taking your place in line – you don’t want people to pass you when it’s a narrow area. You want to control your access to the road.

That relies on cyclists having the confidence and assertiveness to take their place in the middle of all those big vehicles.

That is the way to go. That’s the best way to go because the No. 1 priority is to be seen. If you were on the sidewalk, in most cases, it reduces the motorist’s ability to notice you. There are no guarantees in any sort of travel. … The best practice, the one that presents the least risk for the cyclists, is to be in the road behaving like any other vehicle, because that is going to be the most conspicuous. Motorists who can’t see you can’t avoid you.

There are experienced bike riders who say that there are motorists in Orlando who can be life-threatening, even in those situations. They say that drivers target cyclists and have the scars to prove it.

I would think, more than likely, the cyclists who are having the most trouble with overtaking motorists are hugging the line, who are staying as close as possible to the edge of the road. That invites motorists to come squeezing by, often at an uncomfortably high speed. Once you let go of that and move out significantly toward the middle of the lane, the problem goes away. I used to ride the way everybody else rides, and the way I ride now is far more relaxed and safer; it just presents far less trouble......

There are a lot of things that don’t look bike- and pedestrian-specific, but they do benefit cyclists and walkers. For instance, if you put a raised median on a street that doesn’t have a median, that is really going to improve pedestrian and bicyclists’ safety. And similarly with street lighting, if the street doesn’t have lighting and you add lighting, it helps pedestrians and cyclists.

Honestly, even though the "in the road like a car" practice of bicycling is supposed to be safer I have a bit of trepidation in metro Orlando when riding on a major road. Some cities such as Gainesville, Fla, a college town, is in parts more friendly to bikes than to autos or pedestrians it seems. As placed in a prior blog, there are major world cities such as Barcelona and Paris that have great signage and highway markings for the bikes and the bikes and autos coexist easily.

I may try to become less of a curb hugger and sidewalk user while biking but it will be with a great deal of care.

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